What conflict!

October 8th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Sir Ngatata Love’s partner was paid more than $170,000 to resolve a property dispute for the Wellington City Council, which was unaware she was also being paid by developers planning to build on the land.

Documents released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show the council engaged Lorraine Skiffington to secure a sale and purchase of 2 Lambton Quay.

The site of the former Cecil Hotel was acquired by the Government during World War II to house US troops, but the Edmonds family fought a protracted legal battle against the Crown and the council to win it back in 2005 and 2006.

Council chief executive Garry Poole told The Dominion Post the council was left in a weak position on land needed for the capital’s transport system, with owners who had refused to negotiate with it.

Sir Ngatata, the Tenths Trust chairman, approached Mr Poole in May 2007, believing he could use his good relationship with the Edmonds “as a means of ending the stalemate”.

He proposed Ms Skiffington be engaged as a lead negotiator to strike a deal between the Edmonds family and the council, which would cover her costs, at $350 an hour.

Mr Poole said the council believed she worked as a lawyer for the Wellington Tenths Trust.

Over the following six months she filed three invoices totalling $154,350 plus GST.

The invoices show the council was charged for dozens of meetings between Ms Skiffington and members of the Tenths Trust, as well as property developers, who at the same time were paying her to progress plans to build an office tower on the Lambton Quay site.

That’s a win-win – for Ms Skiffington.

He proposed Ms Skiffington be engaged as a lead negotiator to strike a deal between the Edmonds family and the council, which would cover her costs, at $350 an hour.

Mr Poole said the council believed she worked as a lawyer for the Wellington Tenths Trust.

Over the following six months she filed three invoices totalling $154,350 plus GST.

$350 an hour is around what lawyers cost. But that suggests 441 hours of work on the negotiations – for one site. That is 11 weeks out of 26 spent on nothing but that one negotiation.

The invoices show the council was charged for dozens of meetings between Ms Skiffington and members of the Tenths Trust, as well as property developers, who at the same time were paying her to progress plans to build an office tower on the Lambton Quay site.

If the same meeting was charged at the same rate to both clients (we do not know if this is the case), then there could be issues.

Documents released by the council show Mr Poole had reservations about invoices Ms Skiffington sent him detailing the work she was charging for, with no certainty of how long the negotiations would take.

Twice he wrote directly to Sir Ngatata requesting an estimate of what the total cost of the negotiations would be.

“I have approved the Skiffington invoice without this cost estimate but it is clear this still needs to happen so that both parties can assess our respective commitments as we go forward,” Mr Poole wrote.

So it was an open-ended commitment.

Last week Mr Poole said that at the time the deal was struck he was unaware Sir Ngatata and Ms Skiffington were in a personal relationship but it would not have stopped him hiring her.

But it should have been disclosed as it was material.

He was also unaware that Ms Skiffington had a $3 million consultancy deal with a group funded by Auckland property developers Redwood and financiers Equinox. This included paying her to progress plans for an office tower on the Lambton Quay site.

“I did not know that was happening. We did not know that,” Mr Poole told The Dominion Post.

It appears Ms Skiffington’s arrangement with the council on the Lambton Quay site was also unknown to developers.

“It’s news to me,” Equinox partner Kerry Knight told The Dominion Post on Friday.

And that should have been disclosed also. I have no idea about the legality of this (I note the SFO are investigating) and am not suggesting it is illegal. But I do believe that non-disclosure to be unethical.

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Was this a pattern?

September 12th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reported at the weekend:

Sir Peter Jackson’s plans to build a world-class film museum in Shelly Bay were scuppered when Sir Ngatata Love’s partner sought $750,000 in consultancy fees to help secure the land.

I suggest people read the full article, which is potentially quite disturbing. I make no comment on the legality of what happened, recognising that there is an SFO investigation.

What I wonder about is whether this was a one off, or a regular thing. How many great Wellington projects may not have occurred because of such greedy demands?

Shelly Bay would be a wonderful location for a film museum. Hopefully the proposal can still happen one day.

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